Phil Murphy attacks NJ governor candidate on COVID

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When it comes to his opposition to coronavirus mandates, Jack Ciattarelli, the Republican nominee for governor, insists he’s no clone of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a leader of the anti-mandate resistance in the GOP.

“I never hear [DeSantis] warning people about how deadly this virus is. I think it’s careless to just say, ‘Go about your lives.’ I’ve never said that,” Ciattarelli said in an interview this month with the USA TODAY Network New Jersey Editorial Board. 

“I’m not where Phil Murphy is,” he said of the governor, who has required schoolchildren to wear masks and mandated vaccines for government and health care workers, “but I’m certainly not where Ron DeSantis is.”

That may be technically true, but Ciattarelli and the more extreme and combative DeSantis are members of the same anti-mandate chorus.

Both are also going through the latest rite-of-passage requirement for GOP candidates as they court the blessing of the hard-line party base that remains in the firm grip of ex-President Donald J. Trump, who simplified his anti-mandate credo in a radio interview last month.

Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli speaks during a gubernatorial debate with Incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy, D-N.J. at Rowan University's Pfleeger Concert Hall Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, in Glassboro, N.J. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, Pool)

“I love our people, so I want our people to take the vaccines. But at the same time, I have to tell you, you can’t mandate it,” Trump said. “You can’t force it. And I don’t think it’s going to be necessary, because this thing is going to eventually go away.”

In effect, Ciattarelli and other GOP office seekers don’t get past Go in the GOP electorate without trumpeting some level of hostility toward mandates.

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